Migraines May Up Risk of Painful Skin

Study Shows Migraine Sufferers More Likely to Have Severe Skin Sensitivity

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 21, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

April 22, 2008 -- A new study shows migraine sufferers are more likely to have a type of pain condition called "allodynia" -- pain from something that normally should not evoke pain, such as rubbing the head, combing hair, or wearing necklaces and earrings.

The study looked at questionnaire answers from 16,573 people who have headaches; 11,737 of them have migraines, 1,491 have probable migraines, and 3,345 have other types of headaches.

Researchers explored what types of headaches these people have and how often they get them, among other things.

When it came to allodynia, here's what the researchers found:

  • 68% of respondents who had migraines every day reported allodynia.
  • 37% of those who had chronic daily headaches said they experienced allodynia.
  • In people with migraines, allodynia was more common in women and people who were obese.
  • Depressed people reported more extreme skin sensitivity and pain.
  • Extreme skin sensitivity and pain decreased with age.

Skin Pain and Headaches

Exactly what causes brain pain and extreme skin sensitivity? Researchers speculate that the constant activation of certain neurons in the brain may eventually damage those neurons, which could play a part.

Researcher Marcelo E. Bigal MD, PhD, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., says allodynia may be a "risk factor for migraine progression, where individuals have migraines on more days than not."

This type of pain and sensitivity seems to decrease as we age. Why? According to researchers, one reason may be that "the activation of pain pathways in the brain decline as attacks become less frequent and severe."

Study researchers say identifying risk factors for how migraines progress can lead to better treatment.

Researchers believe that there may be a link between female hormones and skin pain associated with headaches.

The study shows that the pain areas in the brain changed as women went through their menstrual cycle, with the most pain being reported during menstruation.

The study was sponsored by the National Headache Foundation and appears in the April 22 edition of Neurology.

Show Sources


Bigal, M.E.Neurology, April 22, 2008; vol 70: pp 1525-1533.

News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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